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Trees, (climbing) shrubs or lianas. Leaves not stipulate, petiolate, often peltate, alternate; blade simple or up to 3-5-lobed or divided into 3-5 leaflets; veination prominent, pinnate, palmate or camptodromous; oil cells, sometimes cystoliths and glandular hairs present. Inflorescences axillary, pseudo-terminal, rarely terminal panicles, usually much branched, terminal-flower generally absent, flowers in cincinni or dichasia; bracts and bracteoles present or absent. Flowers bisexual, unisexual, or by abortion unisexual (then plants monoecious, very rarely dioecious), regular, epigynous; perianth segments 3-10, in 1 or 2 whorls, quincuncial, (sub-)imbricate or valvate; stamens 1-7, in 1 whorl, alternating with (inner) whorl of perianth segments, usually free, in Hernandia with 2 somewhat connate, swollen glands on back, anthers basifixed, 2-locular, introrse, dehiscing by valves opening to the top or to the side, connective linear, pollen grains inaperturate, spinulose; interstaminal glands very small or absent; ovary present or rudimentary, unilocular, ovule 1, anatropous, pendulous, style 1, simple, with a groove decurrent along entire length. Fruits dry, indehiscent drupes, ovoid or ellipsoid, rarely globose, longitudinally ribbed, in Hernandia included in cupule; seed 1, endosperm absent, cotyledons 2, large, with apical radicle.


Guianas present, Neotropics present, Pantropical present
Pantropical, most frequent in coastal regions, 4 genera and 62 species; in the Neotropics 3 genera with 24 species: Gyrocarpus (2 species), Hernandia (7 species) and Sparattanthelium (15 species); in the Guianas 4 species in 2 genera; Hernandia (1 species) and Sparattanthelium (3 species).

Taxonomic changes

The following taxon are newly placed in synonymy:
  • Sparattanthelium botocudorum Mart. var. uncigerum Meisn. to Sparattanthelium wonotoboense Kosterm.
  • Sparattanthelium uncigerum (Meisn.) Kubitzki to S. wonotoboense Kosterm.


Growth rings present and rather distinct, boundaries indicated by a few rows of flattened fibres and by an almost continuous ring of aliform/confluent parenchyma.
Vessels diffuse, for 50-80% solitary, the remainder in radial pairs occasionally in clusters or in longer chains, scarce, average number in Hernandia 1.5 per mm², in Sparattanthelium 5 per mm². Perforations simple. Intervessel pits alternate, 10-14 μm wide, the apertures included. Vessel member length in Hernandia 580 μm, in Sparattanthelium 370 μm. Vessel-ray pits very large, oval to irregularly shaped, in Sparattanthelium more or less in scalariform arrangement, in Hernandia also partly similar to the intervessel pitting.
Rays 1-4-seriate, uniseriates rather scarce; 3-4 per mm; almost homocellular, marginal cells of the same height as procumbent cells, but radially slightly shorter; width 20-50 μm, height up to 600 μm (18 cells) in Hernandia, up to 235 μm (30 cells) in Sparattanthelium.
Parenchyma rather abundant, mainly paratracheal, vasicentric to aliform and aliform-confluent, also apotracheal diffuse and diffuse-in-aggregates; strands of 2-4 cells. Large cystoliths in inflated cells in Sparattanthelium p.p.
Fibres non-septate, thin-walled with a wide lumen, diam. 20-25 μm. Pits simple, minute, in radial walls. Average length of fibres in Hernandia 486 μm, in Sparattanthelium 860 μm.


The wood of the two genera indigenous in the Guianas, Hernandia and Sparattanthelium, is very much alike, as well in general aspects as in structure. The bark is thin and superficially longitudinally grooved; the beige wood is rather coarse, particularly in Hernandia, and light. Special features are absent.
The wood is of no commercial value.
A. Carlquist, S.: A theory of paedomorphosis in dicotyledonous woods. – Phytomorphology 12, B. Dadswell, H.E. & S.J. Record. 1936: Identification of woods with conspicuous rays. – Trop Woods 48, C. Dechamps, R. 1985: Etude anatomique de bois d’ Amérique du Sud. III. Linaceae-Quiinaceae. – Ann. Mus. roy. Afr. Cent. Tervuren No 14, D. Détienne, P. & P. Jacquet. 1983 – In: Atlas d’identification des bois de l’Amazonie et des régions voisines, E. Ilic, J. 1991 – In: CSIRO atlas of hardwoods, F. Kribs, D.A. 1968 – In: Commercial Foreign Woods on the American Market, G. Lindeman, J.C., A.M.W. Mennega & W.H.A. Hekking. 1963 – In: Bomenboek voor Suriname, H. Metcalfe, C.R. & L. Chalk. 1950: – Anatomy of the Dicotyledons Volume 2, I. Metcalfe, C.R. 1987: – Anatomy of the Dicotyledons vol. 3, J. Record, S.J. & R.W. Hess. 1943 – In: Timbers of the New World, K. Shutts, C.F. 1960: Wood anatomy of Hernandiaceae and Gyrocarpaceae. – Trop. Woods 113, L. Welle, B.J.H. ter, 1980: Cystoliths in the secondary xylem of Sparattanthelium (Hernandiaceae). – IAWA Bull. n.s. Vol. I, M. Williams, L. 1936: Woods of Northeastern Peru. – Field Mus. Nat. Hist. 15